INDIANAPOLIS – Bill Belichick isn’t sentimental when it comes to assembling a football organization.
The New England Patriots’ head coach has three Super Bowl titles and may win a fourth here Sunday. You don’t do that with cronyism.
Belichick didn’t make Brian Ferentz his tight ends coach because Brian’s dad, Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, was on Belichick’s Cleveland Browns staff in the mid-1990s.
Today, Brian Ferentz is the coach of the deadliest pair of tight ends on one team the NFL has ever seen, statistically. They help the Patriots win, to say the least.
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez broke into the NFL the same year Ferentz broke into coaching, 2010. This season, the duo combined for 169 catches and 2,237 receiving yards. Gronkowski set a league record for tight ends with 17 touchdown catches.
Their mentor is a 28-year-old who played guard and center at Iowa. His only catch in organized football was for three yards in an eighth-grade game. After that reception, he said, “I fell down.”
“It would be crazy for me to tell you I know everything there is to know about playing the tight end position,” Ferentz said here Wednesday. “My background, obviously, is the offensive line. That’s my comfort level.
“So when I moved over to work with these guys, I had to learn a lot about the passing game, running routes, catching the football. It was a big learning curve.”
“Brian’s done a great job,” said Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears, an assistant coach in the NFL since 1991. “He’s got a lot more insight into what this football world’s all about than most guys his age because he’s been so involved in it through his family. He’s a smart dude.”
Without any question, Gronkowski and Hernandez wouldn’t have similar stats were their quarterback not Tom Brady. Ferentz is refusing credit for helping mold the two players from second- and fourth-round picks to star status in two years.
“The best coaches have the best players,” said Ferentz. “It’s amazing how that works.
“For me to sit here and take any credit what Rob and Aaron have done would be wrong. It would be wrong, and it would be untrue.”
He calls the pair “self-made players.” But they weren’t the top two picks in the 2010 NFL draft, so they couldn’t have shown up in Foxboro as complete players. The two have gotten some sort of coaching, probably some very good coaching.
Said Belichick: “Brian Ferentz has done a good job with those guys the last two years taking those two young kids and all of the things they have to do in our offensive formations – blocking, pass receiving, split out in the backfield, on the line of scrimmage, in motion.
“We ask them to do a lot of different things. They are smart guys who work hard and have been well-coached.”
Before becoming a full-time assistant coach, Ferentz had been in the New England organization for two years as a scouting assistant and coaching assistant. In his first year out of Iowa, he was a center on the Atlanta Falcons’ practice squad for the 2006 season, was waived, went to training camp with the New Orleans Saints in 2007, and was cut before the start of the season.
“I would rather have played forever,” Ferentz said. “But that’s not very realistic, and wasn’t very realistic for me. I had an OK career that I enjoyed a lot. I wish I could have played longer. But I also knew my prospects of a coaching career were better than a long playing career.
“I couldn’t help but observe people I was around most of my life. Obviously, my dad. Coach Joe Moore (Kirk Ferentz’s mentor), Coach (Chris) Doyle, Coach (Reese) Morgan. I wanted to be like those guys.”
What Ferentz has passed on to Hernandez and Gronkowski is built largely on what he learned in his father’s Iowa program.
“What I found out was this,” he said. “Running routes, catching the ball – it’s so similar to blocking that it’s scary. And the only reason is this: It’s all about fundamentals.
“There’s only so many ways to physically do something. One thing I learned from my father, who learned it from Joe Moore, who learned it from his father – this is as old as the game – the only way to do those things is to drill them every day and drill the same things. Master the fundamentals, master technique.
“If you can master the fundamentals, you can get a leg up on anybody.”
The same surely applies to coaching.
“Nobody works harder than Brian does,” Fears said. “He’s ready to go and he’s ready to go every day.”
But you can’t coach effectively if players don’t trust or respect you.
“You earn respect from what you know and what you do,” said Fears, “And Brian knows his (expletive).
“If you know what you’re doing,” Ferentz said, “if you’re prepared, you’re knowledgeable, and you understand what’s going on, you never try to b.s. anybody. If you don’t know something, then say you don’t know it.
“If you can help a player become a better player, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man, woman, young, old, white, red, black. They will listen. Because they all want to play well.”
This is a young man who loved his days at Iowa and the college game. So, is New England and the NFL where Ferentz wants to remain?
“I have a job here,” he said. “I made a commitment to Coach Belichick. He gave me an opportunity that I’d say 99 percent of people would never have given me, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.“My loyalty is to Coach Belichick and my job is to coach the New England Patriots’ tight ends. That’s what I’m doing right now, and that’s what I’ll be doing in the near future.”